The Heroes met with Huntington-area media in the new home for Heroes football, the Big Sandy Superstores Arena in downtown Huntington, a move Coach McPeek, the uncle of Nate, hopes will draw bigger crowds near all the eateries and attractions near the arena in Pullman Square. "We appreciate what the people at the Veteran's Memorial Field House did for us in year one, but like the old television show, 'The Jeffersons', we are moving on up," said McPeek, who won a national championship in indoor football with the Lexington team in 2005. "The management at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena is very excited to have us here and we hope it encourages fans to come downtown, have dinner, see the game and then be able to go out afterwards without moving their cars from the available parking now on Third Avenue and Pullman Square. There is no doubt, Pullman Square is beginning to be the place to be and now we are part of that."
The other thing the American Indoor Football Association, a new league with many members of the Heroes league in 2006, has done is start the season earlier in the year, avoiding the drop-off in attendance that came late in the year. "We will fill the void, opening our season right after the Super Bowl," said McPeek. "When it warms up in late May and June, people like to be outside so we hope having home games in February, March and April will be to our advantage. We have to have the fans attend games to make this work and we think with the Big Sandy Superstore Arena we have a more fan-friendly building with people right up against the walls of the indoor field." The Heroes will open year two on Saturday, Feb. 3 against the Carolina Speed at the BSSA.
Jimmy Skinner, who played at Marshall the last four years, leads a group of former Thundering Herd players who traded the Green and White for the Red, White and Blue of the Heroes. Other former Herd players on the roster include Michael Owens, better known as "Kool-Aid" since his playing days at Logan High School, and Charlie Tynes at linebacker; Jamus Martin and Marcus Hairston on the defensive line; Chris Royal, Craig Chisholm and Ivan Clark at defensive backs; Nate McPeek, Luke Salmons, Chris Barnes and possibly Wesley Jones on the offensive line; Donte' Newsome at running back; and former track star Mark Littlejohn at wide receiver. "I didn't think I would play again, but Coach McPeek called and gave me this opportunity," said Skinner. "I decided I wanted to keep playing, especially because of all the former teammates and guys I watched when I was being recruited to play at Marshall, like Nate, Chris, Ivan and Jamus. It's a pocket-passing systems, and I'm a pocket-passer, so it should be good for me." Also in camp are veteran indoor football quarterback Ramon Robinson, who played at Benedictine, and former Glenville State standout Joey Conrad.
Owens and Nate McPeek both thought the first season was a good start, but they expect the team to take it up a notch in 2007. "We went 9-6 and made the playoffs. We surprised some people, but we want to play for championships," said Owens, one of the leading tacklers on the team and a former All-Bowl selection by Sports Illustrated when playing for the Herd. "With the players we have coming back on defense, and the additions of guys like Nate and Jimmy on offense, we hope to bring another title to town, just like we did with Marshall." Owens also challenged the current Herd team to get back into title contention. "They were close last year, and I know the fans don't like losing. But I think they are ready to get back on track next season and we all want to see Marshall playing for the Conference USA title." Nate McPeek agreed, but he spoke about how important the fans are to both teams.
"When you take that field, nothing gets you more ready to play than a big crowd behind you," said McPeek, who is down to 285 pounds and has been cleared medically to play following lower back surgery on a disc that plagued him his senior year at MU. "The Heroes, like the Herd, don't work unless the fans are part of it. We need them here everygame to give us the edge the Herd has always had at home." Other home games this season include: Feb 17 vs. Canton (Ohio) Legends; March 24 vs. Johnstown (Pa.) Riverhawks; April 12 vs. Erie (Pa.) Freeze; April 21 vs. Pittsburgh RiverRats; May 12 vs. Danville (Va.) Demolition; and May 19 vs. Reading (Pa.) Express. All games start at 7:00 p.m. at the Big Sandy Superstores Arena and you can get tickets there or online at www.ticketmaster.com on the web.